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Tractor is slow, but so is justice regarding settlement, black farmer says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Farmer takes tractor to Capitol Hill
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The settlement involves the U.S. Agriculture Department
  • Qualified farmers could receive $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias
  • Democrats and Republicans have supported paying out the money

(CNN) -- Beginning Thursday, the head of the National Black Farmers Association will ride a tractor to Capitol Hill to press Congress to fund a historic discrimination case settlement involving minority farmers.

John Boyd says he will make the ride on the tractor he named "Justice" each day the Senate is in session.

Last week, he showed up in front of a federal courthouse in New York on a mule -- a reference to Civil War-era promises of assistance for freed African-American slaves.

"I'm sorry my tractor may slow things down, but any delay in traffic is small potatoes compared to the years of delay black farmers have endured in our pursuit of justice," he said.

Last month, the U.S. Senate failed to approve $1.25 billion for the settlement between the U.S. Agriculture Department and black farmers, prompting finger-pointing between both parties and outrage among the farmers.

"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have both told me personally, on multiple occasions, that they support resolving and funding this case," Boyd said. "Justice in this case should know no partisan boundaries."

Boyd has said black farmers are losing land at a rate three times faster than other agricultural workers. He said that it takes nearly 400 days to process a black farmer's loan request at the Agriculture Department, compared with less than 30 days for white farmers.

A 1997 case against the Agriculture Department, Pigford v. Glickman, was settled out of court 11 years ago, but tens of thousands of farmers missed the filing deadline to submit claims.

As a senator, Obama sponsored a measure in the 2008 Farm Bill that reopened the case, known as Pigford II.

The $1.25 billion settlement is owed to the farmers after years of being denied government farm loans and support from federal programs because of the color of their skin.

Under a federal judge's terms dating to 1999, qualified farmers could receive $50,000 each to settle claims of racial bias.

In February, the Department of Justice released a statement saying Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were announcing a resolution to Pigford II. The statement said the settlement agreement is contingent on the appropriation of funds by Congress.

Prominent members of both parties have voiced support for paying out the settlements.

In July, the House approved a war supplemental funding bill that included money to pay for the settlement.

But the attempt to approve the funds in August failed in the Senate. It was the seventh attempt by the Senate to approve the funds, Boyd said.

CNN's Shawna Shepherd, Alan Silverleib, Elise Zeiger and Ed Hornick contributed to this report.

 
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